This dates from around the turn of the millennium … before I’d ever heard of things like ‘Emergent Church’
OK, so I had this vague kind of dream.
In it I was watching a group of people, probably a family who were travelling along in some sort of horse-drawn cart. There were three people for sure, a young child, an older girl and a man – I know this sounds horribly predictable, but that’s what was there – and they seemed to be committed to the journey. However, the journey that was ahead of them appeared to be long and arduous, something that they were sort of aware of but not necessarily completely prepared for.
In the course of the journey, their horse died. Bit of a problem when you have a horse-drawn vehicle that. This meant that the man had to climb down out of the cart and stand between the rails to pull the cart himself, which seemed to go fine – particularly for the child and the older girl. For a while they made good progress and even the man was quite happy to pull along – he felt useful and knew his role. Unfortunately the road ahead started to rise and the man found he could no longer pull the cart so easily. The gradient got so steep that the older girl had to join him to pull the cart along, which meant they could continue their progress as before.
After a while, as both the girl and the man tired of pulling the cart, the already steep road gave way to a barren rocky path. Ruts and debris hindered their progress, until the girl had the good idea that the child should get out of the cart and help by clearing debris ahead and helping to pull the cart through the worst of the ruts. Again, everything seemed to work well and progress was maintained.
As they continued their journey, they entered a barren wasteland, a desert that sapped the last of their strength, so much so that they had to stop and rest. The desert was, as all deserts are, incredibly hot during the day, with no sign of water to relieve their thirst or food to renew their strength. As they did not have the strength to continue they decided to rest overnight and travel on in the early morning before the heat grew to great. Unfortunately, most deserts at night become incredibly cold and this was no exception. They huddled together but still they were freezing, in their weakened state they felt the cold even more. As a last resort they took the extreme measure of breaking up their cart and using it to build a fire. The meagre fire was enough to bring them warmth and as they grew warm their spirits rose, and they managed to rest.
In the early morning they struck out on what was the last leg of the journey, reaching their goal tired but relieved, to be greeted by their father who did not care about the loss of the cart or even the horse but whose only concern was for his children.
In a housegroup a long time ago we had talked about this idea of ‘going deeper’ and what it meant. Now we didn’t come up with anything particularly revealing – at least I didn’t – but we did promise to really think about it! I had this dream and really felt that God was speaking to me through it about church ‘going deeper.’
If there is anything as fancy as an interpretation for the dream, I think it may be something like as follows.
The family – man, girl and child – represented the family of the church. The horse and cart were the edifice of church, the expected way of getting from A to B.
The journey was nothing more than everyday life, and everyday church.
Along the way of church life we have seen the horse die in some respects – we have come out of the accepted norm to where we are now. However there is also the possibility that we have tried to replace the horse in the same way the man did, by substituting our own ‘muscle power’ for that of the previous traditions. And, as in the journey in the dream we often find that progress is fine at first and everyone feels really good about it, everyone feels really useful and excited and empowered.
However, when things get tough – just because the terrain changes, not because anyone is particularly wrong or anything like that – we need more effort and recruit more people to pull or clear the way ahead. Progress is still there, and it feels good and useful to be involved, but dragging the cart along does eventually make you tired, after all it is something that we’re not supposed to pull along!
The time in the desert, well I’m not sure but it feels like the point of that was to finally sap the self-reliance and to bring on a raging thirst. The realisation that the cart had to be burned to make sure everyone got were they were going isn’t so much a call to burn down the church, but to liberate ourselves from the traditional expectations of the church – even the very church you’re in!
The cart, the church, is seen as a vehicle that transports us from A to B from our everyday lives and into the presence of God perhaps. We even prefer to have ourselves drawn along by a willing carthorse or willing man, girl or child. However, like the welcoming father in the story, God is more interested in us getting home to see Him face to face than actually preserving the cart or the carthorse!
I’m fairly sure that God is saying that we need to consider exactly what we are doing, and how much of what we do is substituting our own ways for the more traditional ways we left behind. There is a possibility that we’ve been dragging along a cart that we should have left behind. This isn’t a call to be radical for it’s own sake, or even to scrap Sunday services and Wednesday housegroups but it felt like God was asking whether we were really aware of how much time and effort we expended in serving the church instead of following after God.
What I felt God was showing me was that the church as an edifice, as a structure and a way of doing things ‘because that’s how they’re done’ wasn’t going to cut it for us anymore and we had to be prepared to burn it if necessary. It’s interesting how a lot of the sacrifices offered to God were burnt offerings, in which something was irrevocably given over to God. Maybe we have to look carefully at how much we have invested in the church – what we do on a Sunday and Wednesday – when we should have been looking for our destination – God.